Category Archives: Soups

Southwestern Chicken-Tortilla Soup

Serious Eats asked this week what we’re all cooking to keep us warm and cozy during this long winter spell. Soup is my number one go-to to during the colder months. What I like to do is to make a few batches of it when the inspiration hits and then to freeze it to have on hand. This was particularly helpful when I was sick a few months back and couldn’t bring myself to cook for each meal.

So far, I’ve eaten my way through almost two batches of my favorite winter stand-by Winter Squash Soup with Gruyère Croutons, many bowls of Peter Gordon’s Spicy Red Lentil, Coriander & Coconut Soup with Chicken Dumplings, and several hearty helpings of Tuscan Bean Stew. These dishes have definitely kept me going in sickness and in health this season. At the same time, I’m also always on the look out for new recipes to try to add to my collection.

Back when I was right out of college and working many long hours at a non-profit firm, I would sometimes stop by a local restaurant on my way home. I would order Southwestern Chicken-Tortilla Soup, which would take me away from the mundane life of a low-level administrator working in highly bureaucratic Washington, D.C. and into a warm, sunny world miles away. Over the years, I’ve pulled various versions of this recipe for my files, but I was never quite sure that I’d found the right one based upon my now-vague memories of it.

Last weekend, I decided to take the plunge and cobble together what I think is a reasonable interpretation of what used to be my favorite weeknight fallback meal. While I think a little bit more fussing and fiddling might be necessary with some of the seasoning, I feel that it came out pretty close to how I remember it tasting. Like the other soups I’ve prepared this winter, the key is that this one can be frozen and reheated for later on, when you need to get rid of the bone-chilling cold and sniffling nose and to dream of warmer climes.

Southwestern Chicken-Tortilla Soup
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4-6 hearty portions

1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets
2 Tbsp, vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 14.5 oz. can low-salt chicken broth
1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes
juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste

1 Corn tortilla per person
1 Tbsp, vegetable oil
2 avocados, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
Sour cream
Mexican cheese mix
Finely chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges

Poach chicken breast by pouring water into a sauté pan and allowing it to come to a simmer. Put the meat into the pan and allow to cook in the heated water for about 4 minutes per side, or until cooked through (this might take a bit longer for thicker pieces). When finished, remove the chicken from the pan, place on a cutting board, and set aside. Reserve the cooking liquid.

Heat two tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion and allow to cook for 3 minutes over medium heat. Add in the garlic and jalapeno and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Stir in the cumin, oregano, and coriander and cook the mixture for 2 minutes to allow the flavor of the spices to come forward.

Pour the chicken stock and the tomatoes, along with their juices, into the pan. Fill the can that held the chicken broth with water and swish it around. Pour the contents of that can into the can that held the tomatoes and swish it around to get out the last bits of flavor. Pour that can into the pan holding the rest of the ingredients. Stir everything together and bring to the boil.

Turn the heat down and allow the mixture to simmer for 30 minutes until it becomes a bit thicker and all the flavors have a chance to meld. Add the reserved cooking liquid from the poached chicken to the soup. Stir every few minutes to break up the tomatoes into smaller chunks. While the soup is bubbling away, shred the chicken into 1-inch pieces.

The tortilla garnish can also be prepared while the soup is cooking. Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush both sides of the corn tortillas with vegetable oil and place in one layer on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until the sides curl up and they look as though they have crisped up. Set aside.

Once the soup is finished, turn off the stove, and blend with an immersion blender (you can use a conventional one as well, but a hand held model is much easier) until all the tomatoes and vegetables are incorporated. You can leave it slightly chunky or make it completely smooth depending upon your taste. Add in the lime juice and shredded chicken and stir to incorporate. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

To serve, ladle soup into shallow bowls. Put a dollop of sour cream in the center of every bowl. Scatter around the chopped avocado. Sprinkle each serving with shredded cheese and chopped cilantro. Take one tortilla per bowl and break it into small pieces allowing them to fall over the soup and rest of the garnishes. Add a lime wedge to each serving. These crunchy bits will provide a toasted corn backnote to the slightly spicy dish.

Buon appetito!

Spicy Red Lentil, Coriander & Coconut Soup with Chicken Dumplings

That’s the sickbed, to be specific. There’s only one thing worse than being all alone on a holiday weekend. Being sick and alone on a holiday weekend. That really stinks. For the past couple of days, I’ve been fighting off some nasty bug. So, I decided to pull the plug on my trip to see my family in Virginia for Thanksgiving.

This means no turkey, no stuffing, no Dad’s mashed potatoes, no pie, and none of the other treats that go along with that day. Oh, yeah, and no family either, which is a shame as some of my relatives whom I haven’t seen in a while were going to be at my folks’ house. Instead, I got to eat chicken soup, lots of soup, along with cold medicine and fluids.

A few months ago, when there were still lots of summer vegetables at the Greenmarket, I made a batch of one of my favorite soups to keep on hand. Peter Gordon’s Spicy Red Lentil, Coriander & Coconut Soup with Chicken Dumplings* is definitely not your grandmother’s chicken soup. Heck, it’s not my mother’s or my grandmother’s chicken soup.

Although the title says “spicy,” it is not hot in the sinus-clearing kind of way. Rather, it has layers of flavor from spices, vegetables, broth, and coconut milk, along with citrusy backnotes. It is comfort food for a different palate. It is light and hearty at the same time. The other plus is that it freezes well, so I can make it when inspiration hits and then keep it on hand for when I feel under the weather or for when I feel like I need a bowl of something warm and comforting.

Buon appetito e buona festa!

*I tried to find an on-line version of this recipe, but couldn’t locate it. I recommend tracking it down in his Sugar Club Cookbook, which I saw for sale on eBay for under $10.00. I was fortunate enough to be able to eat at that restaurant when I lived in London many years ago and had one of the top two vegetarian meals I’ve ever eaten.

Pumpkin Soup

Several years ago, I mentioned in a post that I really thought that Thanksgiving dinner (or really any great autumn menu) should start with pumpkin soup. A have a very good friend and recipe-testing buddy to thank for finding this one on line many years ago. It’s become my standby soup to make once the weather gets that cool-crisp fall feeling in the air. The benefits are that it makes quite a bit and that it freezes really well. I usually end up making maybe a couple of batches each cold weather season to keep on hand.

Winter Squash Soup with Gruyère Croutons is definitely in the keeper file. Originally, my friend and I made this with Cheddar Pumpkins that we got at our Greenmarket. A four pound-ish pumpkin will give you the eight cups of chopped vegetable needed for the recipe. This year, however, the pumpkins were either on the too big or too little side the weekend I was craving this recipe. Instead, I actually followed the directions (shock, I know) and made it with the butternut squash-acorn squash combo.

While the flavor was slightly different than that of the soup made with a Cheddar Pumpkin, it definitely mimicked a French soupe au poitron a bit more closely than a recipe made with the former. This is based upon my distant memory of having had it once a while ago when I was in France. Served in a modest portion, this dish would make an elegant (with the croutons, which I omitted here) and not-too-heavy starter. This is also a great excuse to whip out the immersion blender to avoid all the fiddling of pouring hot liquid into a regular standing blender.

I put my vote forward as I did in my post about pumpkin muffins to ban the overly-spiced, gluey pie that is usually found on tables across the land and to serve something a bit more interesting, and maybe in this case, something perhaps slightly more authentic, at the Thanksgiving table. As I’m one of the folks who will be pulling dinner together this year at my parents’ house, I might actually get my own way.

Buon appetito!

Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew

When I was at home over the end of year holidays, I picked up my mother’s copy of the 2009 America’s Test Kitchen cookbook. I have to confess to having a soft spot for this show and the publications that it produces. They get to do that fussy testing and fiddling with recipes that saves me/us all the time in the world. We just get the benefit of all of their hard work by getting all the best methodology and ingredient tips. I’ve discovered some new favorite recipes among the ones that they have published.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m going to be moving apartments fairly soon. So, most of my eating efforts are going towards clearing out the cupboard, freezer, and fridge. Like most people, trying to eat better and to consume more whole grains and pulses has been an on-going goal and challenge. While moving things around to find the ingredients for the cookies I made a few weeks ago, I found that I’d bought a bag of cannellini beans on one trip to the Italian market at Chelsea Market. I consulted the cookbook because I’d remembered seeing the recipe in there for Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew.

With the temperatures still hovering around freezing to completely frigid, the photo for that dish just drew me in and brought back warm memories of Italy and of taking day trips to Florence, where we could get a nice steaming bowl of ribollita, after which this recipe takes. La dolcezza di far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) is very far removed from the fast pace of the Big Apple. I could use some more of that in my life right now, with all the craziness taking place in financial services and the battering that the industry is taking at the moment. Making soup seemed like a way to bring some of that balance back into my life.

There are quick-soaking instructions, which seemed to work quite well. I would like to try to let them sit overnight to see if it makes a huge difference.

In the interests of time, and because I was kind of lazy, I used the food processor to chop the veggies and the pancetta. Next time, I think I will do it by hand, as I think something was lost in the final product.

Almost ready! I used chard which worked really well and is actually more authentically Tuscan than some of the other recommended greens.

All served up! I didn’t think this was entirely complete without a few gratings of parmesan cheese and some toasted bread drizzled with the lovely olive oil that I bought at the Arthur Avenue Market on my trip up there several weeks back. This was the perfect wintertime dinner.

Buon appetito!

Butternut Squash Soup

After taking a break to digest Thanksgiving dinner, it’s time to launch into the last few posts for 2007 and look forward to this blog’s second anniversary. I would lie and say that I was doing something wildly impressive last weekend, which is why I didn’t post, but the truth is far simpler and less interesting.

In disconnecting the cable/internet service from a neighboring apartment, the cable folks accidentally tripped mine either instead of or in addition to. Needless to say, I was really unhappy to find out on my day off that I had neither cable (which meant that I couldn’t really watch any tv at all) or computer connections. It’s amazing as to how isolated that made me feel. Fortunately, the tech who was sent out on my service call knew before he even came to my apartment what the problem was and resolved it right away. I felt like I could breath again.

One of the things that I did do on my blog break was to attempt another recipe from the Cook’s Illustrated issue that I’d highlighted a couple of posts back when I made the Goat’s Cheese Salad. This time, on the recommendation of the friend who’d pointed me this way to begin with, I made the Butternut Squash Soup. This is such a classic and comforting winter warmer and I’m always on the lookout for the version of this recipe that will live in my files forever.

I definitely think that this recipe might be THE ONE to keep in my files. I always find it interesting to read about the process that the Cook’s folks go through in addition to trying their end result. For me, it sort of helps to define the rationale for some of the quirkier steps that might be in the recipe. It also makes me realize that many of us have the same issues in trying to replicate those flavors that we love and have eaten previously, usually in nicer restaurants.

So, I highly recommend that you give this recipe a whirl, as my friend did to me. She did warn me, however, that it is really “squashy” for lack of a better adjective. It tastes like eating perfectly creamy smooth squash. If you don’t like that, don’t try this. What she didn’t say is that it is very orange. It is really, really orange, as you can see from the photos below.

Kitchen Witch Tips

For those of you who haven’t yet acquired a hand-held blender, I’ll plead with you once again to consider putting it on your holiday gift list or to treat yourself while you are shopping for other people. This is definitely the utensil that keeps on giving. With this, you can skip over that whole messy part of the recipe that calls for transferring hot or warm liquid to a blender, pureeing it and then return it to the pan to reheat.

Simply puree the cooled-down liquid in the same pot as the squash was cooked, using the hand-held blender and then reheat the same, never having to transport the soup from one vessel to another with all that slopping about. The blender is a snap to clean and far less messy to deal with than having to take apart a standard blender or processor with all the blades and other bits. You need this utensil in your kitchen.

Post Dental Surgery – Cauliflower and Gorgonzola Soup

“Granola. That’s the food of death.” Those were words I had never expected to hear in my life. Having just come out of dental surgery a few moments earlier, however, I was getting the lowdown on what I could and couldn’t eat for the next few weeks while my gums heal. Thusly, I was told on no uncertain terms to steer clear of my usual yogurt-and-granola breakfast combo, at least until I’d seen the dentist again. Where did that leave me?

“Soft foods,” he said, “soft foods for at least the next two, in your case, I’d say, three days. And no biting into anything or chewing on the side of the mouth where I worked.” Ggrreeaaatt. So, what was I going to eat? How was I going to eat?Did he not know how hard this was going to be? I’m not exactly a fan of mushy things; I want food to have texture and taste. I have vivid memories of the Cream of Wheat that they tried to serve us at summer camp being turned out of its serving dish like a Jello mold. (Maybe it’s a consistency thing, as I’m not fond of gelatin things or stuff in aspic either.)
I started the next day with eggs, then a lunch of “don’t-shoot-me-I’m-not-a-deer” orange mac & cheese from the company cafeteria – for all my food snobbiness, I will still eat this – and ended with dinner of oatmeal with slices of a very ripe banana. This is a far, far cry from my normal day’s eatings.
By the second day, I was a bit light-headed (too many carbs and too few calories with the painkillers and antibiotics I was taking) and [shock] a bit turned off to eating in general. This was probably due to the fact that my teeth were hurting, and I didn’t even feel like cooking for myself.

After picking the egg salad off of a breakfast sandwich and tearing a croissant into little pieces to try to melt it in my mouth (see, this is what years of dissolving communion hosts in one’s mouth have done), I was starting to think that this eating thing was getting to be too much of a chore. After a lunch of the same oatmeal-and-banana combo from the dinner the night before, I was sure of that.

With the temperatures finally turning to winter and my inability to really chew my food, I decided to try a recipe recommended on Slashfood ( for some culinary respite and relief. Last week they showcased Cauliflower and Gorgonzola soup made by Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks (
Here’s my effort at this recipe:
During cooking
Blending it smooth
I definitely used the chicken broth option, so as to get some more protein into my system and provide some defense against the cold. Being a big fan of robust cheeses, I used the full cup of Gorgonzola. The cauliflower just needs something that strong to match its blandness.
Kitchen Witch Tip:
To blend the soup during the final steps, I used probably one of the few pieces of heavy machinery that I own (aside from the ice cream maker and food processor), one of the best inventions ever as a time-saver and water-conserver: my hand blender. If you make soups or sauces that need pureeing, this is the gadget for you.
It saves the time, mess and effort of pouring hot, chunky liquid into blender to make it smooth, only to have to pour it back into the same pot to heat it up for serving. With a little practice and control, you can easily avoid splattering (as with an electric hand mixer). Part of the trick is to remember to allow the ingredients to cool down before blending them.
Buon appetito!